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The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is a collection of professional astronomers, at the Ph.D. level and beyond, active in professional research and education in astronomy. Headquartered in Paris, France, it acts as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies (stars, planets, asteroids, etc.) and any surface features on them, and is a member of the International Council for Science (ICSU). The main aim of the IAU is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU maintains friendly relations with organizations that include amateur astronomers in their membership.

Working groups include the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN), which maintains the astronomical naming conventions and planetary nomenclature for planetary bodies. The IAU is also responsible for the system of astronomical telegrams which are produced and distributed on its behalf by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. The Minor Planet Center (MPC), a clearinghouse for all non-planetary or non-moon bodies in the solar system, also operates under the IAU.


The IAU was founded in 1919, as a merger of various international projects including the Carte du Ciel, the Solar Union and the International Time Bureau (Bureau International de l'Heure). The first appointed President was Benjamin Baillaud. Pieter Johannes van Rhijn served as president from 1932 to 1958. In the IAU Information Bulletin No. 100, twelve of the fourteen past General Secretaries since 1964, each one in office for the three years between General Assemblies, recall the IAU history with its difficulties, e.g. with Soviet bloc officials, with the Greek military junta, and the reasons behind the unpopular decision to hold an additional Extraordinary General Assembly in Poland on the occasion of Nicolaus Copernicus' 500th birthday in February 1973, shortly after the regular GA in Australia.


The IAU has 10,145 individual members, all of whom are professional astronomers and most of whom hold PhDs. There are also 64 national members who represent countries affiliated with the IAU. 87% of individual members are male, while 13% are female, among them the union's current president, astronomer Catherine J. Cesarsky.

The sovereign body of the IAU is its General Assembly, which comprises all members. The Assembly determines IAU policy, approves the Statutes and By-Laws of the Union (and amendments proposed thereto) and elects various committees.

The right to vote on matters brought before the Assembly varies according to the type of business under discussion. The Statutes consider such business to be divided into two categories:

  • issues of a "primarily scientific nature" (as determined by the Executive Committee), upon which voting is restricted to individual members, and
  • all other matters (such as Statute revision and procedural questions), upon which voting is restricted to the representatives of national members.

On budget matters (which fall into the second category), votes are weighted according to the relative subscription levels of the national members. A second category vote requires a turnout of at least two thirds of national members in order to be valid. An absolute majority is sufficient for approval in any vote, except for Statute revision which requires a two-thirds majority. An equality of votes is resolved by the vote of the President of the Union.

General Assemblies

Since 1922, the IAU General Assembly meets every three years, with the exception of the period between 1938 to 1948, due to World War II.

After a Polish request in 1967, and by a controversial decision of the then President of the IAU, an Extraordinary IAU General Assembly was held in February 1973 in Warsawmarker, Polandmarker, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus, soon after the regular 1973 GA had been held in Australia.

Meeting Year Venue
Ist IAU General Assembly (1st) 1922 Romemarker, Italymarker
IInd IAU General Assembly (2nd) 1925 Cambridgemarker, Englandmarker, United Kingdommarker
IIIrd IAU General Assembly (3rd) 1928 Leidenmarker, Netherlandsmarker
IVth IAU General Assembly (4th) 1932 Cambridge, Massachusettsmarker, United Statesmarker
Vth IAU General Assembly (5th) 1935 Parismarker, Francemarker
VIth IAU General Assembly (6th) 1938 Stockholmmarker, Swedenmarker
VIIth IAU General Assembly (7th) 1948 Zürichmarker, Switzerlandmarker
VIIIth IAU General Assembly (8th) 1952 Romemarker, Italymarker
IXth IAU General Assembly (9th) 1955 Dublinmarker, Irelandmarker
Xth IAU General Assembly (10th) 1958 Moscowmarker, Soviet Unionmarker
XIth IAU General Assembly (11th) 1961 Berkeley, Californiamarker, United Statesmarker
XIIth IAU General Assembly (12th) 1964 Hamburgmarker, West Germanymarker
XIIIth IAU General Assembly (13th) 1967 Praguemarker, Czechoslovakiamarker
XIVth IAU General Assembly (14th) 1970 Brightonmarker, Englandmarker, United Kingdommarker
XVth IAU General Assembly (15th) 1973 Sydneymarker, Australia
XVIth IAU General Assembly (16th) 1976 Grenoblemarker, Francemarker
XVIIth IAU General Assembly (17th) 1979 Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker, Canadamarker
XVIIIth IAU General Assembly (18th) 1982 Patrasmarker, Greecemarker
XIXth IAU General Assembly (19th) 1985 New Delhimarker, Indiamarker
XXth IAU General Assembly (20th) 1988 Baltimoremarker, Marylandmarker, United Statesmarker
XXIst IAU General Assembly (21st) 1991 Buenos Airesmarker, Argentinamarker
XXIInd IAU General Assembly (22nd) 1994 The Haguemarker, Netherlandsmarker
XXIIIrd IAU General Assembly (23rd) 1997 Kyoto, Japanmarker
XXIVth IAU General Assembly (24th) 2000 Manchestermarker, Englandmarker, United Kingdommarker
XXVth IAU General Assembly (25th) 2003 Sydneymarker, Australia
XXVIth IAU General Assembly (26th) 2006 Praguemarker, Czech Republicmarker
XXVIIth IAU General Assembly (27th) 2009 Rio de Janeiromarker, Brazilmarker
XXVIIIth IAU General Assembly (28th) 2012 Beijing, Chinamarker

The XXVIth General Assembly and the definition of a planet

The XXVIth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union was held from August 14 to August 25, 2006 in Praguemarker, Czech Republicmarker. On 15 August the Assembly decided to restore to individual members the right to vote on scientific matters, which had been removed from them at the XXVth Assembly in 2003. Among the business before the Assembly was a proposal to adopt a formal definition of planet. During the General Assembly the text of the definition evolved from the initial proposal that would have created 12 known planets in the solar system (adding initially the asteroid, for a short time around 1801 a planet, Ceres, Pluto's present moon Charon, Eris and would retain Pluto as a planet) to the final definition of a planet resolution that was passed on August 24 by the Assembly, which classified Ceres, Eris and Pluto as dwarf planets, and reduced the number of planets in the solar system to 8. The voting procedure followed IAU's Statutes and Working Rules. The General Assembly lasted 12 days and had 2412 participants, most of them for only part of the duration of the Assembly. 424 of the 9785 individual IAU members attended the Closing Ceremony 24 August 2006. Following the August 24th, 2006, parts of the scientific community did not agree with this ruling, especially the specific wording of the resolution, and criticized IAU's authority to name celestial bodies. In the ensuing public debate, a number of laypersons expressed (at times strong) disagreement with the vote. Another, less vocal, fraction of the scientific community backs the resolution, including the discoverer of the dwarf planet Eris, Mike Brown.

The Commission 46: Education in astronomy

Commission 46 is a Committee of the Executive Committee of the IAU.As a prestigious international scientific union, the IAU plays a specialrole in the discussion of astronomy development with governments and scientific academies and in interceding about such matters at the highest levels. The IAU is affiliated with the InternationalCouncil of Scientific Unions (ICSU), a non-governmental organization representing a global membershipthat includes both national scientific bodies and international scientific unions. Whenappropriate, the President and officers of the IAU are proactive in persuading the authorities ofthe importance of astronomy for development and education and in encouraging countries tobecome members of the IAU. A strategic plan for the period 2010-2020 has been published.

The Commission seeks to further the development and improvement of astronomical education at all levels throughout the world, through various projects initiated, maintained, and to be developed by the Commission and by disseminating information concerning astronomy education at all levels.Part of Commission 46, the Teaching Astronomy for Development (TAD) program is intended to help enhance astronomy education significantly in countries where there is currently very little on offer. TAD operates on the basis of a proposal from a professional astronomy organization or a contract between the IAU and an academic institution, usually a university.

The IAU has lauched in 2009 the Galileo Teacher Training Program (GTTP), a Cornerstone project of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, among which Hands-On Universe is a major partner. Hands-On Universe is now officially included in the Astronomy for the Developing World Strategic Plan 2010-20 of IAU, under Section 3.4.2 Astronomy for Children and Schools. During the next decade the IAU will concentrate more resources on education activities for children and schools designed to advance sustainable global development.

The GTTP is concerned with the effective use and transfer of astronomy education tools and ressources into classroom science curricula. By training a worldwide network of "Galileo Ambassadors" who will train new "Galileo Teachers" the effect of the program will be multiplied. The GTTP is closely affiliated with the Global Hands-on Universe Program.

Outreach to teachers will involve the provision of training courses, development and translation of materials and harnessing global technological resources in the service of primary and secondary education. A specific goal will be to provide expertise for at least one teacher training course in each region every year, to be organized together with the regional coordinators.

Related programs (leader name): Hands-On Universe (Dr Roger Ferlet), and Universe Awareness (Dr Carolina Ödman).

See also


  • Statutes of the IAU, VII: General Assembly, ss. 13-15

External links

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